This is part three of a multi-part series on researching past residents of your Portland-area house:
- Portland houses 1934 and after
- Portland addresses 1933 and earlier
- Houses that are (or were) outside Portland
In the other two installments of this series, I talked about how to use old Portland city directories to find names of people who lived in your house in the past, and about how to find the address your house had before Portland's city-wide address system revision in the early 1930s.
Now we're going to talk about finding past residents of houses that are not in Portland, or that did not used to be in Portland.
As I have pointed out, Portland has grown a lot over the last hundred or so years! Many neighborhoods that now seem like they've been in the city forever were actually annexed fairly recently, for example:
- If you live in Montavilla, or Richmond, or Foster-Powell or any of the other close-in east-side neighborhoods between 42nd and 92nd, your house wasn't in Portland until sometime between 1900 and 1910.
- If you live in St. Johns, your neighborhood was its own incorporated city before it joined Portland in 1915.
- If you live in Multnomah or the neighborhoods to its south and west, your house wasn't inside Portland city limits until the 1940s at the earliest.
- If you live east of 92nd Ave., or in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood in SE, or the Cully neighborhood in NE, your neighborhood was annexed in the 1980s.
The Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability has a really helpful map of historical annexations to the City of Portland (pdf) which you can consult for more detail.
The historical Portland city directories mostly contain listings only for people and businesses that were, at the time the directory was published, within Portland city limits. This presents a problem if your house is in Parkrose or Collins View or one of the other neighborhoods that joined Portland after a lot of houses were already built. So, is it possible to find out who lived in your house in those early, pre-annexation years?
And what if your house is in Maywood Park or Gresham or Fairview or somewhere else near to but outside of Portland? Is there any way to find out past residents of houses outside of Portland?
The answer to both questions is a qualified "yes." Yes, it's possible, but, it can be kind of a challenge! Because each neighborhood or city is different, I can't provide comprehensive instructions for each and every situation, but here are some general tricks you can try:
Other city directories. The library has many, many city directories for towns and cities around Oregon. They are often useful, but not always: some smaller-town directories were only published in scattered years, and some have listings by name only, with no by-address section in the back. R.L. Polk & Co.'s Gresham directories (they began publication with the 1962 edition, pictured at right) are a good example of a smaller-city directory that does include a cross-reference-by-address section in the back. To consult the Oregon city directory collection, visit the Literature and History room on the third floor at Central Library in downtown Portland. The librarian on duty can get you started.
Rural directories. A company called Tscheu Publishing produced a wide variety of rural directories for Oregon localities, which might be useful if your house was in a rural or suburban unincorporated area when it was new. Most of Tscheu's rural directories contain maps of "rural routes" that were used in lieu of addresses for rural mail delivery, and you may be able to use these maps as a way to look for residents based on the location of rural route boxes. Tscheu published this series from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, and as with the other non-Portland directories coverage (both for date and for location) is a little spotty. The Tscheu directories are also located in the Literature and History room at Central Library – ask the librarian on duty there to help you find one for your area.
Search the library's Historical Oregonian (1861-1987) database for your house's address to see if you can find news articles, rental or real estate advertisements, or funeral notices from early issues of the Oregonian daily newspaper that reference your house. Please note: this can be a tricky database to search! A comprehensive search for your house's address may require several steps (general tips on searching the Historical Oregonian for mentions of your address are in part two of this series - scroll down to the bottom of the page), and it might help to add the name of your town or neighborhood as well. Remember, you are searching the words that appeared in the newspaper, so think about what words a homeowner might have included in a classified ad, or about what words a journalist might have used in a local news story. If you have an questions about using Historical Oregonian (1861-1987) or if you'd like a librarian's help getting started, don't hesitate to contact us.
Contact your local library. If you live in Clackamas or Washington county, your local library may have more resources to help! They are the experts about their cities and neighborhoods. Get in touch with your librarians through Washington County Cooperative Library Services or Libraries In Clackamas County.
Search for early owners. If you can't find a list of residents, you might be willing to settle for a list of owners - who, let's face it, do often live in the houses they own! You should be able to find a list of everyone who has ever owned your house (including people who owned the land before your house was built), by combing through the property records at your county assessor or recorder's office. This research can be quite a bit of work – and you'll need to visit the assessor or recorder's office in person – but if you're diligent you should be able to find property records all the way back to the 1850s or 1860s. If your house is in Multnomah County, you can find records at the Public Records Research Room of the Multnomah County Assessment & Taxation Division. To research previous owners of property in Clackamas County, visit the Recording Division of the Clackamas County Clerk's office; for Washington County records, go to the Recording Division of the Washington County Assessment & Taxation Division.
And, one wrinkle to consider: old addresses! If your house was in an unincorporated area when it was built, but is in a city now, it is quite possible that it has had a couple of different addresses over time. If you'd like help gumshoeing that mystery, definitely get in touch with a librarian and we'll get you started.
There you have it, all the basics for finding out who lived in your house in years past! To get a refresher on using city directories to find out who lived in your Portland house from 1934 to the present, take a look at part one of this series. Or, re-read part two, in which I discuss basic tools for finding your Portland house's pre-1930s address, and for tracking down pre-1930s residents.
Have fun researching the history of your house; and as always, be sure to ask your friendly librarian any time you have questions, or whenever you'd like help with a research project!